Movies feed Ancient Human Needs

One of the defining characteristics of twentieth and twenty-first century popular culture has been the movie. For more than a hundred years people has been attracted to the flickering images on the screen like moths to a light.

What is it about movies that people have found so consistently fascinating?

Dr. Michael Cross is a professor of popular culture in the Dalhousie University history department. He says people have always felt the need to gather in groups. The energy found in the group experience enhances emotions. Movies become a kind of ritual that fulfills the basic need to belong to a group, he and provide a framework that allows people grapple with bigger questions, such as life and death.

Cross believes movies lend themselves well to the group experience because TV is an individual experience. Unlike TV, which is composed of lines and dots, movies are composed of a series of complete images moving by in rapid succession. There is no need for the brain to supply the rest of the picture, as with television.

The need for group inclusion can be traced back to the Stone Age, when primitive humans were forced to gather in groups for warmth, defence and for hunting. Cross believes that the need for community grew out of this. Cross says movies are the most recent form of expression for this desire for inclusion because modern society is, by nature, exclusive.

Cross also says that movies are a product of the modern movement towards mass media. He says that the system is designed to perpetuate itself by utilizing all forms of media. Newspapers print show times in the entertainment section, while TV stations display ads for soon-to-be-released films and movies often include trailers for films that are being released later in the year. Cross says that this creates a kind of synergy that creates a demand for more movies.

The fact that the medium of film has survived both television and the Internet says something about what the experience of going to the movies means for modern society, Cross says. Modern society lacks heroes and that people are turning to the movies in order to fill this perceived void.

Nate Lyman, the president of the University of King’s College film collective sees the appeal of movies in a much simpler light. For Lyman, movies, especially those from childhood, have a certain nostalgia.

He says that people watch movies for to escape from the real world and to be educated. He also says an important explanation for the appeal of movies is their ability to deconstruct aspects of human society and the human condition. Lyman believes that movies allow people to strip away the facades that many people wear to hide their inner selves.

Lyman and Cross that for Hollywood, movies are simply a means to an end; money. Lyman says that this is the reason so many movies seem exactly the same. They are meant to appeal to as wide and audience as possible.

Despite this, Lyman believes that the future for movies is a bright one. The only question is can the industry adapt to advances in technology, such as online distribution and successfully combat piracy?


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